Some very kind and thoughtful people have done something that delighted the political anorak part of me, and also made me consider the differences between the contemporary politics of the mainstream parties and that of the past.
The delightful thing that was done, was putting up on YouTube most of the coverage of the October 1974 election night coverage from the BBC. For those who do not know, 1974 was the ‘Year of Two General Elections’ and was held against a backdrop of the Arab Oil Crisis overseas and industrial unrest at home.
Please note that the sound quality isn’t that good on parts of this recording and there are some drop outs.
I spent a happy day off, cooking and watching the coverage of this electoral contest and several things struck me as both important and relevant.
The first was how much it seemed to matter to the British people that there was the smack of firm government, after the Conservative leader Edward Heath found after the February 1974 election that he did not have a majority in the Commons. Edward Heath had been Prime Minister since winning victory in the 1970 general election. In February 1974, Labour had gained 301 seats, to the Tories 297. The Tories had the biggest share of the popular vote but Labour gained more seats in this election. It was not possible for the Tories to rule with the help of the Ulster Unionists since they were angry at proposals for power-sharing in Ulster.
The second thing that struck me was a difference between the turnouts in elections then and now. The average turnout in 1974 was 72% as opposed to 65% in 2010 and 61% in 2005. I would also suspect that the real turnout in the contemporary elections, when possibly dodgy postal votes are discounted, may be a bit less. In 1974 the use of postal votes was restricted to those who really needed them, which is a major difference between elections then and elections now.
The third thing that struck me was how much more engaged with politics the average Briton seemed to be. That is something which is sadly missing from much of modern politics and it is to be hoped that the rise of UKIP may also herald a period of greater engagement in politics by the electorate. You can also see the rumblings of discontent about what was to become the European Union but unlike today, some of the loudest voices against the European project were coming from the Left.
This video, which runs for approximately 6 hours, also has within it some parts that are now political and historical curiosities. Lord Boothby and Manny Shinwell debating politics for example, or Margaret Beckett winning her first parliamentary seat at Lincoln against the rebel ex Labour politician Dick Taverne. Younger viewers will find the BBC Election Night computer system mind-boggling in its antiquity. I couldn’t help remarking to myself that even my cheapest and nastiest mobile phone probably has more memory and processing power than the room-sized mainframe that the BBC were using.
This video is a slice of history and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. I also hope that people see a time when politics meant something and become more engaged with it, for it is only by raising our voices and voting for real change, that the problems that afflict our society can be dealt with effectively.